Lauren Kitchens is no stranger to a little fame — she’s made numerous appearances on Food Network shows, demonstrating her prowess with a piping bag and tiers of cake.
But even with that — and creating cakes for a slate of well-known folks like Jerry Jones, Mike Modano, Don Henley, Ross and Margot Perot, and Jewel — the Ursuline (and SMU) grad couldn’t help but be excited when her company – Fancy Cakes by Lauren Kitchens — got a recent wedding cake order.
“I got a call from a wedding planner at Todd Events in Dallas explaining that she had a VIP client for me if I was interested,” Kitchens said. “I’ve worked with Todd Fiscus for almost 20 years, and I would never say, ‘No,’ to anything he would ask of me.
“Without hesitation, I agreed to take the order, and I asked who the clients were,” she added. “When she said Gwen Stefani and Blake Shelton, I remember swinging my fist up in the air, not unlike that of John Bender in The Breakfast Club. This was gonna be spectacular, and I was all in!”
Kitchens, who opened her bakery in 2002 and now does more than 500 cakes a year, said Stefani wanted a cake that was reminiscent of her parents’ wedding cake.
To pull it off, Kitchens turned on the time machine and picked up a fairly dormant technique called “Lambeth.” Given that Stefani is seen as a bit of a (to put it mildly) trendsetter, Kitchens said cake decorators might not be so happy with her right now, given that many brides just might decide to take a page from Stefani’s book.
“Mention the word ‘Lambeth’ to most cake decorators and they might strangle you … for many reasons,” Kitchens said. “For one, the lost art of Lambeth cake decorating has most modern-day decorators in a head-scratch. This method is intimidating and has not been in high demand since the early ’90s. With the popularity of contemporary cake design, there is little or no need for decorators to be capable of freehand piping.”
But Kitchens was thrilled to do it.
“The piping bag has always been the catalyst for me wanting to make cakes since childhood and I’ve missed it,” she said. “I was happy to pull out my piping tips and begin to get familiar with them again.”
But it’s not just that the technique hasn’t been in use for some time — it’s also the amount of time it takes to decorate a cake using Lambeth.
“The time it takes to make these cakes is staggering,” she explained. “Because of all the intricate piping and time sensitivity (allowing one layer of icing to set before piping over it), it took the same amount of time for me as it does to make some of my most difficult sculpted cakes. Approximately 16 to 18 hours, just for the piping time. And I work fast, so that’s saying a lot.”
And a Lambeth cake isn’t for everyone. Some find it just too elderly for their tastes, but Kitchens said she’s actually beginning to get more requests for it.
“People don’t like these cakes because of the perceived ‘tackiness’ or the severe dated look that Lambeth represents,” she said. “But I’ve noticed in the past year, some clients have been requesting this look. In fact, when we’ve gotten this request I’ve had to do a double-take. My reaction has been, ‘Really?? Someone wants piping on their cake? What an odd request.’
“Then I happily skipped to my worktable to pipe some ruffled buttercream garlands on someone’s wedding cake.”
Kitchens said she was prepared for people to either really love Stefani and Shelton’s cake, or really hate it.
“People either love it or they can’t stand the sight of it,” she said. “I’ve gotten all kinds of messages from cake decorators around the globe either thanking me for helping to bring Lambeth back or cursing my name because of the difficulty in mastering the technique that will now be forced upon them by their clients.
“Wedding industry people don’t seem to like the cake, but they don’t see the cake from the perspective of a cake decorator,” she added. “They don’t know how much time and skill this takes nor do they realize how very few cake decorators are able to pull off this piping technique. Plus, this cake is a really hard look to incorporate into modern-day weddings. But I’m telling you, clients set the style demands in weddings and they will ask for this cake. So we either go with the flow or they will find another vendor to make it happen for them. Sink or swim … I choose to swim. “
Kitchens said she loved the cake and considers it to be a great representation of what she’s capable of.
“It was the best piping work I’ve done in my 20-year career. I will always be proud of this one,” she said. “Would I want this cake for my personal wedding cake? That’s irrelevant. This cake wasn’t for me or for anyone else other than Gwen and Blake. It’s hysterical to read the cruel comments from the general public. People are enraged about a cake!? What a luxury.”
But overall, Kitchens said that she’s been getting photos from people of their parents’ cakes from the 1960s, and their cakes from the 1980s, because the sentimentality “is visceral.”
“The heartstrings this cake pulls is all due to Gwen Stefani,” she said. “This was her idea. And we all know how well she resonates with people. She’s been doing it for decades.
“I don’t really take in the good or the bad when it comes to this kind of thing. Gwen loved the cake, it was exactly as she had imagined, and that’s all that counts. A happy client is a win for us!”
Up until the Shelton-Stefani wedding, Kitchens said one of her favorite cakes was a simple three-tier wedding cake with soft white chocolate ruffles.
“No flowers, no frills, just soft curves that lent itself to a stylish couple,” she said. “The cake is great, but in 20 years it will probably be laughed at like Lambeth, as styles change tremendously and quickly.”
Another favorite, she said, was a groom’s cake that looked like a Yeti cooler “that we made for a fun groom who wanted to show his laid-back side and his love of Shiner beer.
“In fact, the Shiner Company saw the cake on Instagram and asked if they could repost the photo in all of their social media outlets.”
Kitchens said that the pandemic did cause a bit of turmoil, with the wedding industry coming to a screeching halt at one point.
“The pandemic has created a whirlwind in our wedding industry. When the lock-down happened in March 2020, we lost every single wedding and party cake order until that June,” she said. “The hotels were shut down, venues temporarily closed, and families scrambling to find a new plan. People either postponed their dates one or two times, reduced their guest count dramatically, or they just canceled the entire wedding altogether.”
But as things begin to return to normal, she’s beginning to actually see a significant uptick in her business.
“By the fall of 2020, we started to see dates getting booked up at an unbelievable rate,” she said. “Fancy Cakes has tripled its business in 2021 with clients from 2020 who needed to postpone their events and with clients who had already scheduled — or waited — for 2021.”
In fact, she’s getting bookings into June 2022, and has hired more staff members and additional partners to continue to grow Fancy Cakes by Lauren.
“People are ready to party,” she said. “I’ve seen a common trend of practically zero guest RSVPing ‘no’ to a wedding. If you’ve invited 200 people to your wedding, you might actually have to host 200 people, which is totally odd, because typically in the past at least 25% of invites decline the offer of attending.”